This is a common question I hear from writers. This version comes from Robert:
When an agent takes the time to write a personalized rejection (always nice of them) praising a manuscript, at least in part, how can a writer know if the agent might be interested in seeing a revision if offered or if the agent is just being kind? Is there a good way to offer a revision without risking annoying an agent who has already so politely declined?
Most writers know that there are several types of rejection (if this is news, click on the link for a post I’ve written on the subject to learn more and what they are). In terms of percentages, I’d say I give about 93% Form Rejections, 5% Personalized Rejections, and 2% Revision Rejections. What leads to a Personalized Rejection? If I’ve talked to you before, if I recognize your name from blog comments, if the writing is almost there, if something about the pitch or the project impressed me and made me sit up and take notice, you’ll get more than a Form Rejection from me. If I came really close to requesting the full but there was a deal breaker in terms of voice or writing or premise, I’ll send a Revision Rejection.
I have a really strict system in my head (if you have any doubt, see how I read slush and how I consider full manuscripts). For me, personally, if I don’t give you a Revision Rejection, it’s not because I didn’t think about it and not because I don’t know that you want one. I did think about it and I know that the Revision Rejection and the door it opens is something that writers want. That’s why I give it so deliberately. If I was giving everyone a Revision Rejection, that would decrease the importance of the RR and, honestly, give writers false hope.
It’s my job as an agent to spot dead-on potential in manuscripts. Am I sometimes wrong? Of course. Do I sometimes miss good stuff? Sure. But the only thing I really have going for me when I approach submissions is my judgment. Good or bad, wrong or right, I have to trust it. And when I ask for a revision from one writer and not from another, that’s me listening to my gut and making a choice.
So if I don’t ask you for a revision outright, what can you do? Emailing me immediately to ask if I’d be interested in seeing a revision down the line is probably not your best bet. Your manuscript in its current form, the form I rejected, is still fresh in my mind. I chose not to send you a Revision Rejection. I may not be feeling overly optimistic about the project. This doesn’t make me more receptive.
Your other option? Well, you can read a related post, here, for bigger manuscript questions after a rejection. Or you can just go ahead and do the revision — assuming that other agents felt similarly and you didn’t manage to land representation on this submission round — and then present me with a query for the revised manuscript months later, when it is new again. (A query, mind you, don’t just send the full, as before.) I much prefer that method of broaching a revision.
And do take your time. I firmly believe that revision doesn’t happen quickly. It can’t. So much of the revision process is subconscious, and you can’t rush your “back brain.” So make sure you disappear into your revision cave for months and months before trying to present the project as a revised version. Because if you’re getting rejected all over the place, you probably need to do some heavy revision. Something isn’t working. And if something isn’t working, you can’t address that in a week or two.
So if you still want to work with the agent who sent you something nice but that wasn’t an outright Revision Rejection, I suggest doing the revision and trying them again, but only after serious time has passed.